Guest blog written by one of our “on-the-ground” reporters and bloggers, Logan Schiciano.
Though three of the Juniors tennis players lost in the first round of tournament play at the 15th European Maccabi Games, they were all able to get revenge in the consolation draw as each won their match on Sunday, August 4.
After not playing for three days, Eli Greenberg of New York was the first of the Americans to take the court for the day. Eli played against Great Britain’s Louis Deacon and prevailed by a score of 4-1, 4-2. He was especially proud of a drop shot winner that he hit early on in the match, noting that he had worked on improving his slice technique for the clay court surface earlier in the day.
As the hours went by, the players lounged around Park Tennis Club, socializing with competitors from other delegations and cheering on their elder teammates in the Open and Masters’ divisions.
Shortly after 4:00 P.M., Dahlia Rappaport would face German player Aviv Oppenheimer in a back-and-forth, three set battle.
Despite a shaky opening service game by Dahlia, that included two double faults and two unforced errors, she did not allow Aviv to win a single point during the next two games. Dahlia took the lead for a second time with a score of 3-1.
Throughout the match, Aviv was questioning the validity of Dahlia’s line calls and vice versa. As Dahlia served with a chance to win the first set, a ball hit by Aviv appeared to sail long over the baseline. After Dahlia called the ball out, Aviv appeared furious and strode over to her opponent’s side of the court to have a look. She continued to pout, but Dahlia held firm, circling the mark of the ball with her racquet. Aviv exclaimed, “I don’t want you to show me a footprint!” suggesting that Dahlia may have created a fake mark with her shoe to sway the point in her favor. Nevertheless, the match continued, and Dahlia managed to save a breakpoint before fighting back to take the first set 4-1.
In the second set, Aviv began to gather some momentum, winning the first three games by taking advantage of some uncharacteristic mistakes by Dahlia. During that stretch there was some additional controversy when it seemed Dahlia had converted a break point with an overhead to get back into the set down 1-2. Aviv protested once again, believing that Dahlia’s racquet nicked the net on her follow-through, which results in a loss of a point. The girls met and viciously argued with one another when finally, Dahlia gave-in and pronounced the score to be “deuce”. Though she would have another chance to win the game, Dahlia was unable to pull through, losing on a second serve return that she busted into the net.
The girls continued to play lengthy points, typical of clay court tennis according to Coach Lonnie Mitchell, and Aviv prolonged rallies by hitting deep, high lob shots. This only frustrated Dahlia, who, down 3-1 and 15-40 in the game, tried to hit the “hero shot.” She sprayed an aggressive backhand wide and fell in the second set.
The match headed to an ultimate, ten-point tiebreak where Dahlia stepped-up and played a couple of flawless points, capped-off with backhand winners. At a time down 1-3, the Englewood, CO native shifted the points in her favor and would go to win the tiebreaker 10-7. Coach Mitchell explained how she managed to outlast Aviv, “After losing the second set, she recognized that clay court tennis is about patience, consistency, holding your poise and being able to stay calm under pressure. It paid off today.”
Dahlia recalled the pep-talk she gave herself before the decisive tiebreaker. “I told myself: ‘Grind every single point. No mistakes. No errors. You know you can win.’”
She thought correctly, though her consistent play during the critical points was once again overshadowed by a dispute at match point. After her first serve was called out, her second one appeared to be good but after making a delayed, muttered call, Aviv explained that the ball had hit outside the service box. Once again, a heated argument ensued and after inviting Dahlia over to have a look at the mark, an official also made an appearance on the court, explaining that nothing could be done since it was Aviv’s call to begin with.
Dahlia, whose face, at a time, was as red as the clay beneath her feet, managed to move on from the incident–it would not take long until a winner was decided. On the very next point, Aviv made a forehand error and a tense match was over with a 4-1, 1-4, 10-7 scoreline.
After her win, Coach Mitchell was proud of the way Dahlia dealt with the various fiasco’s throughout the match. “You have to embrace adversity. We’ve talked about it at dinner and on the bus. Maybe it sunk in today.”
Dahlia highlighted the importance of the mental battle in challenging matches like the one she had just completed. “I felt like in the first set I was swinging well and playing my game. In the second set, I lost my groove but tried to reset my mindset for the tiebreak. There were a lot of good points, long rallies, but I was able to pull out a win,” she said.
Aviva Diamond, the final player of the three to play on Sunday didn’t begin her match against Sophie Birow of Germany until just before 8:30 P.M. Under the lights, she was elated to finally be playing. “It was very nice to finally get on the court. I warmed up two hours before I played so it was tough to be waiting so long,” she said. Warmed up or not, her skill proved to be superior to her German opponent as she won the match effortlessly, 4-0, 4-0 in just 21 minutes.
While Eli and Aviva would also win their next matches on Tues., Aug 5, their quests for a bronze metal would come to an end later that afternoon. Ryan Shayani (Old Westbury, NY), the fourth and final team member, who lost in the quarterfinals of the main draw on Thurs., will join the three who were in action on Sunday for mixed doubles play on Tues., Aug. 6.